7 June 2007
“The worst thing was the sand. We were breathing sand, swallowing it and even our sleeping bags were full of sand,” says Tiffany, one of the team of 6 high-school pupils from the Toulouse area who accompanied French explorer Stéphane Lévin on an expedition to southern Morocco from 4 to 18 April. But it was with knowing smiles that these 15 and 16-year-olds recounted their adventure on 4 June at the Cité de l'Espace in Toulouse.
“Having to drink hot water,” was something that stuck in Valentin’s mind. Other worst memories were the hours spent trekking at temperatures of 43°C, the half-bucket of water for washing, waking up in the freezing cold at 3 o’clock in the morning to get moving before the heat of day, or the sandstorms that made the daily videoconference with the Cité de l'espace an adventure in itself.
But the glint in the eyes of Elodie, Nathalie, Tiffany, Valentin, Guilhem and Romain clearly reflected their pride and excitement to the teachers, fellow pupils, parents and journalists in the audience.
The objective of the mission was to study desertification. Under the watchful eye of their Tuareg masters, camels bore the 2-tonne load of equipment and supplies including a wind turbine, measuring and communication instruments, 500 kg of water, and food.
“I was able to send electrocardiograms from 2 Berbers and diagnose a dental abscess,” says Elodie, who was in charge of telemedicine protocols. Tiffany, Romain, Valentin and Nathalie had responsibility for satellite communications, GPS positioning, photos and weather readings.
Guilhem collected samples of soil and water to reveal telltale signs of desertification. The team also measured the transparency of the atmosphere to deduce aerosol content.
The primary, middle and high school pupils in the audience listened intently to their elders with touch of envy.
These French classes, along with a class in Morocco and another in the United States, are all taking part in the environmental education & outreach programme called Calisph'air. They, too, have taken weather readings and aerosol measurements, and even released 3 stratospheric balloons.
“Don't be afraid to hold on to your dreams,” Stéphane Lévin told them. They all brought back dreams filled with visions of sunsets over the Sahara, the taste of mint tea, the sounds of Berber songs, riding on camel back under the stars and the warm welcome extended by their Berber hosts.